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Climate Activists Must Heed the Lessons of North Carolina

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center Page and our Organic Transitions Page.

Climate change activists should look to North Carolina for lessons on how to build a broad and diverse movement powerful enough to challenge the corrupt status quo on several fronts. Single-issue organizing won't do.

On February 8 progressives held a huge march in Raleigh, North Carolina, that drew between 80,000 and 100,000 people. The event was led by Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of North Carolina's NAACP. Clearly, Reverend Barber knows a thing or two about organizing a movement. Climate change activists throughout the United States can draw some important lessons from what's happening in North Carolina.

The main lesson is that the North Carolina movement is inclusive and all encompassing, not organized around a single issue. The people involved call themselves the "Forward Together Movement." If you have seen any media coverage of the "Moral Mondays" protests that have been going on in Raleigh (or have watched the documentary on North Carolina produced by Bill Moyers), one obvious takeaway is that it is a very diverse movement. It is diverse not just in the class and racial backgrounds of the people involved, but in the multitude of issues the activists are organizing around.

Much of the focus centers on economic and social justice. What these North Carolinians recognize is that they have a lot in common, in that their problems stem from the extremely unequal distribution of wealth and power in our country. The utter dominance of corporate rule has left our political system broken and corrupt. The only way to fight back against such entrenched interests and attempt to reclaim some semblance of democracy is to organize massive numbers of people.

Climate change activists are focusing now on a valiant effort to pressure President Obama to block the Keystone XL pipeline. If they succeed, it will represent an important victory for the movement to salvage a livable planet from the worst effects of continuing to burn fossil fuels. But so far the movement to fight climate change overall has not shown the capacity to draw into its fold the kind of diverse race and class base that North Carolina has done. This makes the environmental movement much weaker than it needs to be to stop the powerful corporate forces planning to continue spewing their garbage into the atmosphere.

What makes the movement in North Carolina so powerful and promising is the oneness or solidarity it shows between people of many different backgrounds. They are not leaving anyone behind. All are moving "forward together." Everyone is standing up for the rights of children, the poor, workers, immigrants, and people who face discrimination in the criminal justice system. Ensuring equal access to voting rights is a central theme, as are environmental justice issues. (It was North Carolina's state legislature that outlawed the use of accurate climate science in considering the issue of rising sea level.) This is what the almost-forgotten term "the common good" is all about.       


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